'Trivet is showing people what else we can do:' Jonny Lake and Isa Bal on life after The Fat Duck

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th November 2019

When the news broke that Jonny Lake and Isa Bal were opening their own restaurant, a flurry of excitment shook the industry. 

The chef and master sommelier spent twelve years working together at The Fat Duck, where they helped shape Heston Blumenthal's unique take on the restaurant experience - which, for most customers, is a once in a lifetime foray into the world of molecular gastronomy. 

 

Where do you go from there? 

In an interview with The Staff Canteen, the pair said that although customers, critics and fellow industry professionals were unlikely to let the restaurant's initial months pass by in silence, instead of being fearful of judgement, they are grateful for the interest. 

Jonny said: “it is a bit daunting but anyone opening a restaurant would probably love to have this kind of attention so we feel really fortunate that there are that many people interested in what we want to do but just appreciate it.” 

Roast pigeon, persimmon and chevril root

Whatever they did, drawing a line under The Fat Duck was never going to be clear cut. 

“We worked there for a long time, it’ll always be a part of us," Jonny explained.

 "But I think we did need to do something different – we wanted to do something different. This, Trivet, is about what else we can do."

What is Trivet like?

Less destination restaurant and more of a place to feel comfortable enough to go back to again and again, Jonny explained, Trivet is "the kind of restaurant we like to go to now."

"We're still working with the highest quality ingredients – we’re fortunate to be able to work with this level of ingredient, just presented in a simpler way, served in a more casual environment.” 

Inspired not just by their professional experience but their travels - among which a recent "Sake-finding R&D mission” to Japan, which will feature heavily on the menu alongside an extensive wine list tracing the history of wine back to its region of origin - from Georgia, Armenia and Turkey to the more familiar, modern wine-making locations like France, Australia and even England. 

A far cry from the extensive tasting menu at The Fat Duck, Trivet's is small and a la carte; and the walk-in only bar area is another step in the casual direction, typical of many new London venues.

The food, however, is by no-means ordinary, and certainly more in the realm of trend-setting than that of latching on to the capital's latest crazes. 

One such example is the Hokkaido Potato, a baked potato mille feuille served with sake & white chocolate mousse, butter and sake gelato.

Despite the obvious appeal for Instagram fiends, Jonny said: “It works; making it into a classic form like a millefeuille, instead of making it look like a baked potato. It’s important to us as well that it’s 'real' food.”

 

Why did Jonny and Isa band together?

While, as Isa rightly pointed out, they could both have gone their separate ways, with ample opportunity to travel the world and pursue less arduous ambitions than opening a restaurant in London, the chef and the sommelier are more than happy to step up to the challenge. 

"I don’t think many people would think opening a restaurant is the most practical or logical choice in what you do but because we both love it so much," Jonny said.  

The pair develop every single dish together. Both have a scientific background, which they admit is helpful, but they also understand the underlying cultural principle of creating food and wine that are indisociable from one another.

“It is in fact a very modern rendition of that very basic Italian principle of food and wine that you cannot separate. That is what we are doing really.”

Strong communication means the chef and master sommelier can be brutally honest with one another (punctuated by the odd disagreement here and there, which Isa joked is resolved by them "looking away for two minutes" before going back to normal) means they can keep moving forwards. 

Instilling a sense of passion into their team is important to the both of them, as is extending the osmosis that they enjoy to the whole team. For Jonny, it's never been a case of 'you guys pour your wine, we’ll take care of the food.’ "We’ve never approached things that way," he said. 

Hokkaido Potato: baked potato Millefeuille,
sake, and white chocolate mousse, butter and sake gelato

What is their approach to staffing?

Asked what would happen if the pastry chef suing The Fat Duck - who claims working there left her unable to work due to repetitive strain injuries - wins the case, and whether the industry is due its own #MeToo moment, Jonny said he wasn’t aware of the specifics and thus unable to comment.

However, he said, big changes - necessary changes - are already afoot.

“When we sat down and decided what this place was going to be and how it was going to work – it took a long time. One of the things that kept coming back when we spoke to people was: 'we’ve been talking about this for an hour, forty five minutes of that you’ve talked to me about staff. Tell me about the food.” 

“But the reality is, staffing is really hard right now and this industry is really difficult, it’s going through a lot of change and in needs to."

London, he said, is "a very different reality" to the rest of the country, but that didn't stop them from aiming to give people as much of a life outside the restaurant as is possible. 

"We’ve set it up with that in mind.” 

"It’s never going to be an office job, it’s never going to be a 9 to 5 job, but the industry needs to go way more in that direction." 

The (hospitality) world is small 

Leveraging the network of people they've met in the years they've spent in the restaurant industry, the pair want their staff to not only feel like they are valued, but that they are part of a family: "We want to look after them," Isa said. 

“If they were to leave after doing whatever they did with us we would also be very happy to get them get a placement, whatever they might want to do.

“We want them to stay attached to us in some way and then maybe who knows, they'll come back and join the company at another time." 

Most importantly perhaps, the pair want to pass on the knowledge they have accrued over the years. Their love for hospitality is infectious, and what has allowed them both to prosper at such a high level for so long. 

Isa said: “I can only speak for myself, but I don’t feel like I’m at work, I’m just doing things that I enjoy. That’s how I look at it. The work thing – yeah, it is a job, we do it but it’s that ‘amateurness’ in how you approach what you do I think and that’s what keeps me going.”

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th November 2019

'Trivet is showing people what else we can do:' Jonny Lake and Isa Bal on life after The Fat Duck